Disclaimer: This piece contains opinions reflective of the writer and not necessarily the stance of the publication as a whole.
It’s finally here. Marvel’s latest miniseries starring its ‘first Muslim superhero’ is now available to watch on Disney+.
The highly anticipated series, Ms Marvel, which was officially released on Wednesday, tells the story of a 16-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim (played by Iman Vellani) who dreams of being a superhero – to the point where she spends her time writing fan fiction about it. And between the ups and downs of a typical teenage life, she discovers that she actually embodies superpowers just like her inspiration, Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson).
This could potentially be Marvel’s riskiest move yet – the Muslim community is pretty unforgiving in their stance when it comes to the wrong type of representation and rightly so. Time and time again, they have been disappointed by creatives and so-called “progressive” storylines. How many times do we have to see the brown girl take off her hijab and fall in love with a mediocre white boy that probably respects her religion more than she does? Yeah, I’m talking about you Nadia Shanaa. If you see this, know that I have a bone to pick with you.
Anyway, are Marvel going to fall into the same trap Netflix always does or are they actually try and get it right this time? The logistics seem good – Muslim actors, check, Muslim creatives in the background process, check, and unapologetic religious themes throughout, check. Hey, we’re on the right lines so far.
Before we get to that though, here’s some context for you.
Marvel’s Kamala Khan was created less than a decade ago in order to help “diversify” the MCU. Unlike other long-standing characters like Captain America and Spider-Man, who have been around for decades upon decades, Khan’s character is the perfect representation of the times we live in, a time where temptation and teenage turmoils come to define a massive portion of our lives. And this storyline seems to emphasise just that. But with the addition of culture and religious rituals, it brings a more accurate portrayal of the lives of American, Muslim teenagers, no matter how much some of you try to deny it. Of course, it’s not reflective of everyone’s experiences, but a big portion of the community nonetheless.
But is this the representation we need? Personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job at keeping the balance correct. We see relatable brown-girl themes cropping up throughout the series right from the very first episode. The cautiousness around telling her parents she wants to go to a comic con event, the sprinkle of “Astagfirullah” here and there from strict parents, and the confidence when it comes to topics such as prayer and Muslim modesty. Ms Marvel seems to be more unapologetic compared to other shows and films which have stigma of awkwardness around openly portraying Islamic opinions.
Generally though, conversation surrounding Khan and Ms Marvel overall seems to be split. On one side we have those who are enjoying seeing the idea of ‘being Muslim’ in the mainstream, especially in a manner that reflects their own lives. Though it may not be entirely perfect, it still gives them confidence that it could only get better. However, on the other side, we have those who are still less than impressed with the portrayal as it’s not ‘religious enough.’
On Twitter, one fan wrote: “As a muslim marvel fan, the first episode of ms marvel made my day.”
Another joined in: “The very first comic discusses Islam, prayer, the importance of family, and Muslim values continue to be portrayed in the volumes that follow. I’m very proud of Ms. Marvel, the authors (who are Muslim) are proud, and we’re all genuinely happy to have representation and share.”
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, even joined in on the conversation saying: “Representation matters – and new TV series @MsMarvel features the first Muslim woman superhero of Pakistani heritage. Really enjoyed introducing tonight’s screening at @RichMixLondon. Nice job @MarvelStudios! #MsMarvel.”
Others weren’t quite as happy about it.
“Muslims naively ‘proud’ of Ms.Marvel really gets me down,” wrote one user.
“The style of the show and the cinematography is so awesome but they had to ruin everything with the muslim stereotypes and changes to the original character,” said another.
Others have shifted the conversation away from religion and are invested in Iman Vellani’s personal story, which is pretty impressive in itself.
“15 year old Iman Vellani made a Ms. Marvel suit for Halloween and all her friends thought she was The Flash. Years later now she IS Ms. Marvel in the MCU. Like wow.”
Speaking of the idea of ‘representation’, the actress previously told Variety: “The fact that the show is being made and they’re including this character in the MCU is [what’s important]. I don’t really have to go out of my way and talk about being a Muslim and being Pakistani – It all comes out in the show. People seeing a person like me involved in a project as big as this is, I think, inspiring enough.”
She also told the New York Times that her love for acting stemmed from a young age, but it wasn’t easy being brown in such a white-dominated subject at school.
“When you’re in a room with 15-year-old kids who all think they’re Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s like the worst place to be in,” she said. “You immediately hate drama.”
But when the Marvel opportunity presented itself, it was too hard to resist for the teen.
“My aunt opened a group chat that she never opens and someone had forwarded this casting call through WhatsApp that she sent to me,” Vellani explained. “It was the most brown way this could have happened.”
So far, reviews of the show seem to be generally positive, but we’ll see how it evolves as time passes.
What’s your opinion on Ms. Marvel? Join the conversation via Instagram – @MVSLIM.